A school library where everyone feels they belong in Sioux Falls. Read a touching testimonial by one of their teachers.

Vision Tour libraries are selected by their state school library association.  I did not give a lot of criteria, but one very important one is that the library must serve every student in the school.  Washington HS I think had every student in the school in the library during homeroom - it was bustling.  Kerri Smith is the “bundle of energy who never stops” (according to her superintendent).  And she has transformed a rather foreboding place to the center of the school in about three years.  Everything from the murals on the walls to the collection on the shelves has been transformed.  It also doesn’t hurt that the town had passed a 2.5 million bond for school libraries three years ago - hurray for them!

I enjoyed my visit there very much.  There were several firsts at Sioux Falls.  1.  A fire drill about two minutes before the program was to begin - in 40 degree weather and pouring down rain.  2.  The first lady of South Dakota, Linda Daugaard,  came and she is a former school librarian!  3.  We used polling devices to take a quiz about school libraries.  4.  We screened the two top entries in a video book trailer contest. 

Back to the point of serving every student.   I feel this is central to the role of school libraries and so does a teacher at Washington High School, Tami Smith.  She gave an eloquent speech about just that and I’ve reprinted it here with her permission.

“First, congratulations to Kerri Smith, Denise Vig, Brenda Bainbridge, and all the students who share today's honor.  After eleven years at WHS, I can think of many reasons to be proud of being a Warrior.

• our fantastic marching band

•a girls' basketball team that shows grace and dignity even in a difficult state tournament,

• students who come early and stay late to get extra help from teachers

•those teachers who go above and beyond what they are required to do

•a football team that has a stronger work ethic than many adults I know

•... and the list goes on.

However, as great as each of those things is, none can be experienced by literally everyone who enters Washington High School.  Not everyone is in the marching band or on the football or basketball teams.  So that raises the question: What really unifies Washington High School? The answer is quite simple: the library. Yes, every high school has a library, but I doubt the WHS library is replicated anywhere else in the state or maybe even in the country.  You see, Ms. Smith and her staff have worked hard to build a library that serves the academic needs of the students while also making it a place where literally anyone in the building can come and feel welcome. 

Any library's first objective is to the academic support for its users.  I can assure you, if a student is looking for a particular source, wants to read the latest book, or needs to use a computer, this is the place to do all those things.  As an English teacher, I appreciate how Ms. Smith seeks our input.  She wants to know what topics we cover in classes, what databases would be most helpful to students, and what kind of help she can offer our students.  Kerri was an English teacher before earning her library science degree, so she really understands the classroom aspect of teaching students to research a topic and then write a paper or prepare a presentation.  In fact, Kerri visits our classes and literally teaches our students how to find reliable Internet sources and how to use the databases. On those days, we English teachers are her assistants, and we love it.  Who better to partner with than a highly skilled, well-respected librarian who knows how to teach?  The students respect her knowledge and enthusiasm, and the teachers appreciate her willingness to be actively involved with our classes. 

The WHS library has undergone a tremendous change since Ms. Smith, Mrs. Vig, and Mrs. Bainbridge began transforming the library from a dreary, cold place to the vital, dynamic heart of our school.  Students literally rush to check out the latest books that have just arrived.  Plus, students can write down books they would like the library to carry.  Ms. Smith visits classes during reading periods to preview books for students.  She even brings them to the room so students can check them out right there.  If she sees a student with an empty hand during reading period, I guarantee you she will find a book that interests that student.  Our library is also a place where our struggling readers feel welcome.  There are books here for everyone from a beginning English reader to an AP or National Merit Scholar.  I can't think of another place in our school where there is literally something for everyone.

Aside from the academic needs met at our library, it serves perhaps an even bigger purpose.  This library is a place where every student belongs and where every student feels like he or she belongs.  There is not another place in this building where that holds true.  Only people who play an instrument belong on the marching field.  Only football players wear those huge championship rings.  Only the girls’ basketball players wear those cool warm-up suits on game day.  All those activities are wonderful, but only a handful of our students can participate in or even appreciate them. 

In the library, we are all equal.  We all have homework.  We all have research to do.  We all need to check out books.  This is the one place in the building where we all belong.  In today's world of peer pressure, bullying, and the struggle to fit in, young people need a place to feel welcomed and safe.  Our library is that place.  Somehow, Kerri and her staff have created a place where academics intersect with personal relationships.  Each of us is free to be who we are.  No one is labeled, no test scores are compared, and no one receives preferential treatment.

I invite you to visit our library after school today.  Here you will see the outgoing theater-types congregate to discuss their latest production while flipping through the newest magazines.  You will see students poring over the latest anime and manga series. You will see quiet, "bookish" students sitting next to their so-called "popular" classmates working together on a class project.  You will see the stereotypical "jock" quietly looking over the latest non-fiction releases to find one that interests him.  You will see all of these things and you will really see our library.  You will see Washington.”

 

Student murals, planned for the Vision Tour, decorated the ends of the bookshelves at Washington HS in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Yes we can! is particularly descriptive of the high energy school librarian, Kerri Smith.

South Dakota

April 26, 2011